- Written by Gabriele Pieroni
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Diano D’Alba is the unexpected stroke of a paintbrush that designed, with flair, a prominent knoll on the rolling hills of the Langa. The city is defined by a great wall of white sandstone that overlooks the Alba plains to the north, and faces the captivating vineyards of Barolo and the clear, mysterious air of the Alta Langa to the south.
Diano has forever been a rural farming country with houses made from bare, unplastered stone. The dirt streets are just wide enough to let wagons pass, with no streetlamps and no rumble of motors. Instead, ears that are attuned to other sounds pick up the shuffling of footsteps, […] the clomp of horse hooves, donkeys, and steers, the creaking of wheels, the rustle of leaves, the clear chirp of birds, and the words of grandfathers as they tell their nieces and nephews of the unending circle of life.
Mario Corrado, Diano, Sons of the Great Castle (Diano, Figli del grande castello).
Much of the fascination of Diano and its history is harbored from the geographical position of this medieval town, whose highest point reaches nearly 500 m (1640 ft), creating a breathtaking overlook that grants a 360 degree view of the Langhe.
On this promontory, consecrated by the Ancient Romans to the goddess Diana from which the town gets its name, there once arose the most impressive and impregnable castle in all of the lower Langa. This fort was forever contested by powerful rulers and feudal lords because of its dominant position on the hills over the plains. The town of Diano, in fact, is laid out along the spine of a hill that separates two valleys: to the east, the valley of the stream Cherasca that flows from Montelupo into the Tanaro valley; and to the west, the Talloria Valley, carved by the Talloria stream that separates the Alba territory from Serralunga.
While Diano has the aspect of a small agricultural and touristic town, this hasn’t always been the case. It took on a role of primary importance in the Early Medieval ages when it supplanted Alba as the seat of civil administration and court. It was so important that, when Carlo Magno later restored executive power to Alba, for a long time it was still called “Comitato Dianese” instead of “Albese” as one might expect.
From this glory of old, however, all that remains is the high peak of the hill and a great empty space of the lovely piazza that surrounds the 18th century Church of St. Giovanni. This is because the castle of Diano no longer exists. It was barraged to its foundations in 1632 by Duke Vittorio Amedeo I of Savoy who, upon seizing it from the Princes of Monferrato, made it clear that nobody after him could use the Diano stronghold to rule a territory whose commercial importance and viticulture were growing steadily year after year.
Bereft of their castle, the inhabitants of Diano retreated to the cultivation of vines. Its fruits were already celebrated in medieval times, but experienced a true rebirth around the end of the 18th century, when nobles connected to the Savoy family returned to the uncultivated land and gave impetus to the land’s native variety: the Dolcetto.
In this way, Diano became king of the wines Diano d’Alba and Dolcetto di Diano d’Alba DOCG, which come from the same-named grape variety with a ruby-crimson color, notes of dark fruit in the nose, and drinkability at any meal. 60% of the township’s 473 hectares (1169 acres) of territory cultivated with vines are dedicated to Dolcetto, a true sign of love and fidelity that reaches across the centuries. In 1986, this passion translated to the first rural planning commission conducted by an Italian township. It pertained to the categorization of viticulture and, most importantly, the authorization to use traditional place names of Sorì on the label. “Sorì” means “sunny spot” in local dialect, and describes a microcosm of land and climate that combines elements of the earth, sun exposure, and temperature for perfect vine cultivation; in other words, the terroirs of Dolcetto.
The authorized Sorì today number 76, and the majority of wine produced in these areas can be found in the Community Winery (Cantina Comunale), an essential stopover for those who want to fully taste Diano wine in its terroir. The winery, located in the ancient rooms of what was once Carabinieri lodging, has a collection of over 160 labels from 43 local producers. In order to be included in the winery, a producer must make at least one Dolcetto di Diano D’Alba. Other wines can be found inside, too, such as Langhe Favorita, Arneis, Nebbiolo d’Alba, and Barolo (a small part of the Diano territory encroaches upon the land of the “King of wine”). The winery also offers a selection of local products, such as biscotti, thin grissini breadsticks, and hazelnut oil.
Diano doesn’t lack for gastronomic pleasures, and is also full of pleasant places to stay in the hills, just a few kilometers from Alba. In the central piazza under the rock face of the Parish church is the Locanda ‘d Batista, a spot with high quality and delicious, simple dishes at reasonable prices. For dining in a Sorì, we suggest the Trattoria nelle Vigne that has a veranda and terrace facing the hills. In the northern part of Diano’s historical center is the hotel and restaurant Ai Tardì. Recently reconstructed, it enjoys a spectacular view that, on clear days, allows one to see the Alpine mountain peak Monviso.